The best books about college admissions mania

Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman Author Of Girls with Bright Futures
By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman

Who are we?

When each of our older boys were in the midst of the college admissions process, our husbands suffered life-threatening health crises. It was such a bizarre coincidence that we both experienced intense brushes with mortality during this time of high anxiety. The juxtaposition between health and college admissions gave us a unique perspective and led us to explore the impacts of college admissions anxiety on families, friendships, students, and school communities. We had entirely plotted Girls With Bright Futures and were nearly through the first draft when the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal broke in March 2019. We felt like the headlines had been ripped from our manuscript!

We wrote...

Girls with Bright Futures

By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman,

Book cover of Girls with Bright Futures

What is our book about?

Girls with Bright Futures is the story of three high school mothers whose daughters are locked in competition for a single admissions spot at Stanford. With the application deadline approaching, one of the girls is nearly killed in a hit-and-run accident. As the school community descends into a spiral of panic and accusations, three women will have to decide what lines they’re willing to cross to secure their daughters’ futures...and keep buried the secrets that threaten to destroy far more than just college dreams.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books we picked & why

Book cover of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Why did I love this book?

When we set out on our writing journey to understand the impacts of college admissions anxiety on families, friendships, students, and school communities, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by William Deresiewicz, was one of the most insightful books we read. Deresiewicz does an outstanding job of tracing the history of the college admissions industrial complex, including the fascinating story behind the US News & World Report rankings, as well as the impact of airline deregulation and the break-up of Ma Bell on college admissions. If you’re trying to make sense of college admissions mania, this book is a great starting point.

By William Deresiewicz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Excellent Sheep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a professor at Yale, William Deresiewicz saw something that troubled him deeply. His students, some of the nation's brightest minds, were adrift when it came to the big questions: how to think critically and creatively and how to find a sense of purpose. Now he argues that elite colleges are turning out conformists without a compass.

Excellent Sheep takes a sharp look at the high-pressure conveyor belt that begins with parents and counsellors who demand perfect grades and culminates in the skewed applications Deresiewicz saw first-hand as a member of Yale's admissions committee. As schools shift focus from the…

Book cover of Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phonies Behind the College Cheating Scandal

Why did I love this book?

This well-researched non-fiction book by powerhouse investigative reporter Nicole LaPorte of Fast Company provides a fascinating look at some of the behind-the-scenes, real-world parenting dynamics that set the stage for Operation Varsity Blues. In addition to all the juicy details LaPorte reveals about Los Angeles’ elite private school ecosystem, we particularly love the way she traces the origins of college admissions mania all the way back to kindergarten. If you’ve ever wondered how community group-think can lead to lawlessness and a total abandonment of ethics and values, Guilty Admissions takes readers on a tantalizing journey into the competitive-parenting abyss, LA-style.

By Nicole Laporte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Guilty Admissions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

GUILTY ADMISSIONS weaves together the story of an unscrupulous college counselor named Rick Singer, and how he preyed on the desperation of some of the country's wealthiest families living in a world defined by fierce competition, who function under constant pressure to get into the "right" schools, starting with pre-school; non-stop fundraising and donation demands in the form of multi-million-dollar galas and private parties; and a community of deeply insecure parents who will do anything to get their kids into name-brand colleges in order to maintain their own A-list status.

Investigative reporter Nicole LaPorte lays bare the source of this…

Small Admissions

By Amy Poeppel,

Book cover of Small Admissions

Why did I love this book?

We read several popular novels that explore competitive school environments. One of the best in this sub-genre is Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel, which provides a fictional glimpse into the cut-throat world of Manhattan prep school admissions and ultra-competitive parents. Poeppel crafts a fun, wicked read with sharp dialogue. We could easily imagine what would happen when the children in Small Admissions apply to college…their parents would fit in well with the characters in our book.

By Amy Poeppel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Small Admissions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People's Book of the Week

"The Devil Wears Prada meets Primates of Park Avenue." -The New York Times

"Perfect for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep."-Booklist

Top 6 Books You Need to Read-BuzzFeed

Best Books to Give Every Book Lover on Your List-Town and Country

One admission can change your life...forever.

When ambitious grad student Kate Pearson's handsome French "almost fiance" ditches her, she definitely does not roll with the punches, despite the best efforts of family and friends. It seems that nothing will get Kate out of pajamas and back into the world.

Miraculously, one cringe-worthy job interview leads to…

The Gifted School

By Bruce Holsinger,

Book cover of The Gifted School

Why did I love this book?

Holsinger’s debut novel was published in 2019, only a few months after the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal burst into public view, capturing the attention of a horrified nation. While The Gifted School tells the story of four friends in Colorado as their children are applying (and the parents jockeying) for admission to a middle school for gifted and talented students, the parenting mania themes are cut from the same cloth. With humor and wisdom, Holsinger deftly handles the intricacies and dynamics within and across each of the four families. The twists and turns are surprising, the characters extremely well-drawn, and readers are guaranteed to cringe as the parents in the story make one bad decision after another, suffering under—and ultimately succumbing to—the weight of their anxieties. Delicious fun!

By Bruce Holsinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gifted School as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


"Wise and addictive... The Gifted School is the juiciest novel I've read in ages... a suspenseful, laugh-out-loud page-turner and an incisive inspection of privilege, race and class."--J. Courtney Sullivan in The New York Times

"The summer read that predicted the college-admissions scandal." -The Wall Street Journal

Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in the community

This deliciously sharp novel captures the relentless ambitions and fears that animate parents and their children…


By Julie Buxbaum,

Book cover of Admission

Why did I love this book?

This is an engrossing novel with big ripped-from-the-headlines vibes. Told from the point of view of high school senior Chloe Berringer, whose Lori Loughlin-like actress mother becomes ensnared in a college admissions scandal, Buxbaum’s story expertly imagines the impact of such a scandal might have on a young college applicant and her family. Using a Now/Then format, Buxbaum’s juicy and compelling story provides a many-layered and fascinating peek under the veil of one family’s secrets and lies in the name of Operation-Varsity-Blues-style ambition. And although Admission was originally classified as a Young Adult novel, we feel confident recommending it to adults as well. In fact, it would make for an excellent mother-daughter “buddy read!”

By Julie Buxbaum,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Admission as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lie. Cheat. Bribe. How far would you go to get into your dream school? How far would your parents go? Inspired by the recent college admissions scandal, this ripped-from-the-headlines YA novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things sees one teenage girl's privileged world shatter when her family's lies are exposed.

It's good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer--she has it all--money, privilege, and a ticket to the college of her dreams. Or at least she did until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York State, corruption, and university?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York State, corruption, and university.

New York State Explore 659 books about New York State
Corruption Explore 61 books about corruption
University Explore 26 books about university